Legislation Would Let Families Record Activities in Nursing-Home Rooms

Andrew Kitchenman | December 5, 2014 | Health Care
Advocates say measure would safeguard residents but nursing-home owners and workers contend it would undermine trust and violate privacy

video camera
One of the state’s top legislators wants to safeguard nursing-home residents by giving them and their families the right to install video cameras and audio recorders in their rooms to help prevent instances of abuse and theft by staff members.

While the measure has drawn support from AARP, it has drawn strong opposition from nursing home operators and a union representing nursing home workers, who see the measure as undermining trust and potentially violating privacy rights. They say there are alternatives for protecting residents.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen and Hudson) introduced the bill, A-3883, last month. It is advancing swiftly through the Assembly.

AARP New Jersey Associate State Director Evelyn Liebman said residents and their families should have the right to record what happens in their rooms.

“This is about the choice of the resident and their families in their homes, because the nursing home is their home,” said Liebman, adding that the hundreds of millions in taxpayer-funded Medicaid money that support nursing homes also warrant added transparency.

She said the tool would be particularly useful for family members who live far away and are unable to visit frequently.

The bill says the recording devices could be in either a visible or hidden location. The resident or authorized representative would inform the nursing home of the type of device being used and that the resident consented to the recording. The nursing home would be released from any civil liability for privacy violations related to the recording.

The recording couldn’t start until the nursing home confirmed that it’s been notified. In addition, if the resident has any roommates, they would have to consent to the recording. The roommate could also allow video recording but prohibit audio recording, or require that the video camera be pointed away from them.

Residents would be required to be transferred to another room if their roommates didn’t consent to any recording.

The resident or their representative would pay for the recording. State officials would determine the penalties for nursing homes violating the bill’s provisions.

Union members angry, insulted

Service Employees International Union Local 1199 representative Bob Angelo said union leaders’ and members’ first reaction to the proposal was anger, quickly followed by a feeling of being insulted that residents and their families would want to record them.

“There’s so many questions about the video – who gets to see, where does it wind up,” Angelo said. “The first question our workers raised was, ‘Will it be on the Internet?’ ”

Angelo said nursing homes are a highly regulated industry subject to many inspections, adding that the people who would be most pleased with the bill wouldn’t be the residents’ families, but their lawyers.

“It seems like this bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Angelo said.

Jon Dolan, president and CEO of the Health Care Association of New Jersey, noted that recordings can already be done by law enforcement when there are investigations of theft.

But he warned that the bill would violate privacy rights. For example, residents from other rooms who visit a room that’s being recorded could have their privacy violated, he said.

Dolan also warned about the potential negative publicity that could result from videos being distributed publicly.

“It makes red-light cameras look like a walk in the park,” Dolan said.

Association Vice President John Indyk said recording could lead to family members visiting less frequently, if they feel that checking the recording is all they need to assure that the resident is alright.

“When a facility knows you may stop by any time unexpectedly, they’re going to go out of their way to provide appropriate care,” Indyk said.

He also said the recording also would hinder the ability of staff members to listen to residents’ concerns, including those who may want to talk about family problems, if they know family members will later listen to the conversation.

“Caregivers are giving care in some very private, intimate moments,” he said.

He added that the nursing home industry is engaged in several efforts to improve the quality of facilities, including training staff members.

“We’re not prisons,” Indyk said. “We don’t need to monitor everybody all of the time.”

Debate about privacy rights

Bill opponent Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Hunterdon, Somerset and Warren) said if the nursing home itself maintained the recordings — with provisions for periodically deleting their contents — he would be more comfortable with the proposal. He noted that police don’t conduct video surveillance of private places without probable cause.

“It goes against every fiber of our country and our Constitution,” he said.

Bill supporter Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington) noted that a key difference is that a private party, not the government, would do the recording.

“These are family members who are concerned about their loved ones,” he said, adding: “I can’t imagine anyone in the family videotaping mom and putting that out on the Internet.”

Peterson, a lawyer, noted that family disputes over nursing home residents’ money frequently occur, which could be complicated by the recordings. He added: “All I know is that every day there’s always some video out there that nobody thought would come out.”

Larry Lane, vice president of nursing home operator Genesis Healthcare, said the bill “really reinforces a negative attitude to the care and services we provide.”

Lane said that the free market should determine whether there is demand for nursing homes that allow residents and their families to record what goes on in their rooms.

He said the recording would make it more difficult to recruit and retain talented staff members. He added that if family members aren’t comfortable with the care that a facility provides, he would prefer that they move the resident to another facility.

Several states — including Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Washington – allow recording in nursing home rooms.

“We are not aware of significant problems that the statutes have created in other states and in fact they have been helpful in those unfortunate situations when it comes to abuse and theft,” said Liebman, who added that her family would have appreciated the opportunity to record her mother-in-law’s room when she was living in a nursing home.

While AARP supports the bill, Liebman added that the organization is still evaluating the bill’s details and may support some amendments.

The Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee released the bill on a party-line vote, with all seven Democrats present voting for it and all four Republicans voting against it. A Senate version of the bill hasn’t been introduced.